Does this sound like every trip you make to Target? You leave home with the best intentions and may or not be prepared with a list and you come home making several trips between your car and your home to carry in all of your purchases. The discounted movies for a rainy Saturday afternoon. The pair of earrings that will go perfectly with the blouse you had no intention of buying but could see yourself wearing it for the next occasion. And don’t get me started on the $1 section of the store that Target calls Bulleye’s Playground. I personally think it’s called that because it causes grown adults to lose their mind (like kids on at a playground) over cheap stuff that will break in an hour. And I swear the bullseye part is because they are zeroing in on your money to make impulse purchases!
Impulse shopping can be very detrimental to your finances if you don’t keep it in check. The occasional purchase here and there is OK – we all are guilty of that. But it becomes a problem when we do it so often it becomes the norm and suddenly you have hundreds or thousands of dollars slipping through your fingers and you have no idea how to account for those missing funds. It happened to me all the time in my 20s. I would go out to the stores on my lunch hour to “window shop” and an hour later, I would be hauling four new pairs of shoes back with me. Did I need shoes? No. Did I buy them because they were pretty and shiny, and I wanted them in the moment? Yes.
This kind of behavior led to me having over 100 pairs of shoes in my closet. It really came to light how bad of a problem it was when my guy friend who was helping me move said “Is this the last bin of shoes???” Impulse spending ended up costing me a lot of money over the years. Missed savings. Missed opportunities for investing. Paying off my debt earlier and faster. There are huge costs to your finances when you let impulse spending get out of hand.
So, what can you do to help curb impulse spending, so it doesn’t destroy your finances? Here are some guardrails I use to help keep my spending in check:
Go back to a spending plan. I know, it’s not the sexiest or most fun tip I can offer but it is one of the most effective ways to reduce impulse spending. If you have been creating and carrying out your spending plan for a while, you know that you can start to become careless and sloppy in sticking to the amounts that you planned to spend for expenses. It becomes easy not to pay attention. If you find yourself spending more out of control than usual, go back to your spending plan and start executing it.
Create a spending category for free spending. Another way to help you reduce your impulse spending is to create a line item in your spending plan for those impulse purchases. It still allows you to indulge in a special purchase and not feel guilty about it or break your bank account. Plus, it doesn’t make your spending plan feel quite so rigid when you know you have a category that you can spend in any way.
Reduce or eliminate your use of credit cards. Credit cards have this way about them where the “pain” of spending money becomes numb. Why? Because there is a delay between the acquisition of the item and the financial sacrifice – aka real payment – that takes place. For me, it meant racking up thousands of dollars in credit card debit. It was too easy for me to spend out of control because all that was required the following month was a minimum payment, not the full balance. I call credit cards my financial heroin because spending without immediate consequence became my drug. If you don’t want to eliminate credit cards completely from your life, try not using them (using cash or debit cards instead) for an entire month and see how your spending habits change.
Slow down the buying process for big ticket items. Buying a big screen TV or the latest smartphone may seem like the greatest idea when it’s staring at you and calling your name. But then you wake up the next day kicking yourself that you spent such a large sum of money on a purchase that you should have spent more time researching. My rule of thumb is to wait 24 hours or at least sleep on the decision before you decide to make a large purchase. This method takes the emotion out of the buying process and allows for a more sound, rational purchase decision.
Impulse shopping is something that a lot of us struggle with. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to reduce spur-of-the-moment purchasing, so it doesn’t negatively impact our financial lives. Being in control of how we spend our money and not giving into emotion will ultimately be better for our wallets and well-being.
What is your biggest impulse purchase weakness?